Continuing on in the Introductory section of the SD.

All this is very likely to provoke a smile of doubt. But then, before the reader rejects the truthfulness of the reports, let him pause and reflect over the following well known facts. The collective researches of the Orientalists, and especially the labours of late years of the students of comparative Philology and the Science of Religions have led them to ascertain as follows: An immense, incalculable number of MSS., and even printed works known to have existed, are now to be found no more. They have disappeared without leaving the slightest trace behind them. Were they works of no importance they might, in the natural course of time, have been left to perish, and their very names would have been obliterated from human memory. But it is not so; for, as now ascertained, most of them contained the true keys to works still extant, and entirely incomprehensible, for the greater portion of their readers, without those additional volumes of Commentaries and explanations. Such are, for instance, the works of Lao-tse, the predecessor of Confucius.* 

    He is said to have written 930 books on Ethics and religions, and seventy on magic, one thousand in all. His great work, however, the heart of his doctrine, the “Tao-te-King,” or the sacred scriptures of the Taosse, has in it, as Stanislas Julien shows, only “about 5,000 words” (Tao-te-King, p. xxvii.), hardly a dozen of pages, yet Professor Max Müller finds that “the text is unintelligible without commentaries, so that Mr. Julien had to consult more than sixty commentators for the purpose of his translation,” the earliest going back as far as the year 163 B.C., not earlier, as we see. During the four centuries and a half that preceded this earliest of the commentators there was ample time to veil the true Lao-tse doctrine from all but his initiated priests. The Japanese, among whom are now to be found the most learned of the priests and followers of Lao-tse, simply laugh at the blunders and hypotheses of the European Chinese scholars; and tradition affirms that the commentaries to which our Western Sinologues have access are not the real occult records, but intentional veils, and that the true commentaries, as well as almost all the texts, have long since disappeared from the eyes of the profane.

* “If we turn to China, we find that the religion of Confucius is founded on the Five King and the Four Shu-books, in themselves of considerable extent and surrounded by voluminous Commentaries, without which even the most learned scholars would not venture to fathom the depth of their sacred canon.” (Lectures on the “Science of Religion,” p. 185. Max Müller.) But they have not fathomed it—and this is the complaint of the Confucianists, as a very learned member of that body, in Paris, complained in 1881,

Your thoughts and comments please.

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Depressing.  I would love to have the originals to read and try to understand the original writings that HPB is talking about.  Yet, isn't it possible that some of the hidden information comes through in those writing that have come down to us?  At any rate, if what HPB relates later in the SD is true, than we have it in front of us anyway.  The SD is a fascinating work even thought it can be exhausting to read at times :)


Well I think the point is there are considerable obstacles set in the path of revealing the esoteric side of the Teachings due to the substantial  efforts made to eradicate it's remnants.


I think many of us can express the idea that we wish we had the originals, but upon further consideration I don't think this is a wise desire.

One thing to keep in mind is that the books aren't withdrawn simply to keep us from being able to study them, but because we're not ready for them. We don't put Einstein's works alongside Dr. Suess in the kindergarten class. ;) And neither would it do any good to give us works that are simply too much for us.

From the little glimpses we get here and there of the nature of these esoteric works it's quite apparent to me that they're of a nature that would be wholly incomprehensible without a master to translate and comment (and probably still incomprehensible even with that). Think of something like the Matrix movie, and imagine Neo reading about Zion and the machine war. Now, imagine the folks in Zion had an instruction manual for the operating system that allows them to hack into the Matrix using brain-implants. Imagine that manual being given to the people plugged in to the matrix: would it make any sense to them at all? All these instructions about plugs in the back of people's heads, about consciously projecting their own image into a dream-matrix, endless pages of software code to make it all possible, etc., etc.... it would be utter nonsense to those still blindly 'plugged in' and unaware of anything but the false world of the matrix. And such things would certainly lead to confusion, misinterpretation and possibly dangerous side-effects.

Imagine we had "books of wisdom" that describe the nature of our world from, say, the perspective of a Keshara (see Voice of the Silence, fragment 1, note 25) or from the perspective of a Nirmanakaya; would such treatises make any sense to those who have never tasted of such a perspective?

So, I think the truth of the case might be this: these books are available and ready for us, when we rise to a state that will enable us to make actual use of them. So long as we are in the state we're in, we have books which are useful in this state, like the SD and the sacred texts we do have access to.

Just some thoughts.


Just to add to your idea here Jon, you might say that the ethical and moral requirements for higher instruction are so high and stringent that we have plenty of work to do on purifiying our lower natures before we are ready for many of the teachings.

The other side of the point is that teachings were destroyed and hidden for selfish power seeking reasons too.  This might be HPB's point.


the ethical and moral requirements for higher instruction are so high and stringent that we have plenty of work to do...

Absolutely. It seems to me that we have all the teachings we could ever want in regards to moral development. The scriptures of the world are full of them. Perhaps it's a sign of our 'imprisonment' in purely intellectual minds that we aren't satisfied with these teachings and instead crave more 'intellectual' type teachings. After all, when any of us express the idea of wanting more teachings, I suspect we're rarely, if ever, talking about moral teachings; no, what we want is more intellectual stuff, more cosmogenesis, more details about races and rounds and globes and upadhis and principles, etc., etc..

But, where we're at in our development, these wouldn't be helpful at all. What we need is already right in front of us: turn the other cheek, love thy neighbor, develop Dana, practice yama/niyama, renounce the fruits of our actions, etc., etc..

When a child attends swimming lessons, their first few 'badges' are all attained before doing any actual swimming. I don't think dropping a toddler off the diving board would do much good for their development. ;) Preliminary training is necessary first.


Is it possible that we often have the whole enterprise turned around backwards?  Could it be that what we need to do is struggle with the ethical injunctions (altruism for starters) and turn to the philosophical teachings to aid us in the endeavor?


Seems about right to me. A "philosophical mind" would tend to help us to not get lost when climbing the ladder of spiritual development (or, in the words of the Voice of the Silence, moving from Hall to Hall), but it's certainly not the primary object. It seems to me that intellect is at best a helper on our path of Moral development, and at worst a hindrance to it.

I think HPB places morality/ethics in its proper place when she says that:

"In its practical bearing, Theosophy is purely divine ethics."


The two went hand in hand in the 'ancient philosophy' of Pythagoras, Plato and the neo-platonists.  Philosophy was life to be lived rather than an academic pursuit for its own sake.  Its most simple aim had two aspects - the first to discover 'who we are', the second, which involved ethics, was to ask what do we need to do to realise the first.

Our modern and post-modern philosophy has become compartmentalised and often divorced from the life-worth-living. 


Peter, that is very well stated.  Yes the "ancients" saw the entire enterprise as one integrated whole and not in the compartmentalized way we do now.  In a nut shell how did this compartmentalization happen? And perhaps more importantly how do we do it to ourselves?


"He [Lao-Tse] is said to have written 930 books on Ethics and religions, and seventy on magic, one thousand in all."

He certainly had a lot to say for someone who wrote:

"He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know."  (Tao Te Ching, 56) 


Lao Tzu is the Master of the paradox.  You could paraphrase, perhaps, "Those who know don't say to those who are not ready, those who say to those who are not ready do not know." For my part, the Tao Te Ching is more than enough from these voluminous writings that are not available. But I could certainly see the desire to read more of this great sage's writings.


In our study section HPB says that in time the true doctrine of Lao-Tse was veiled from all but his initiated priests.  In SD I 271 she writes about the Brahmins removing the most important portions of the Upanishads which contained the mystery of Being, meaning the secret code to the teachings remained with but the initiated Brahmins alone.

If the true keys to the ancient manuscripts of all the major spiritual traditions are no longer available because volumes of the commentaries which contained them are now missing, then it raises a question as to the value of those remaining scriptures and manuscripts that have been passed down to through the generations.    Are our best scholars of oriental traditions simply experts in the exoteric and the dead letter, and we but students of the same?

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Wes Amerman on July 28, 2013 at 8:51am

This is the sort of thing that makes studying The Secret Doctrine so fascinating, but also frustrating to students.  HPB doesn't just put everything in one convenient place, but makes us look elsewhere to fill in the gaps, not only in the SD but through our own research into the world, and ourselves.  She says as much in the famous (and somewhat controversial) Bowen article, "The Secret Doctrine and it's Study.  (See and probably elsewhere).

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on July 31, 2013 at 10:56am

In studying the Upanishads, I feel that we must've lost A LOT when the brahmins stripped them down. They seem like not much more than shells of what they must've been (i.e. they obviously have entire sections missing, with many meanings purposefully veiled). But, I still think they're very valuable. They still contain a wealth of important teachings (which are found almost nowhere else). They give us the ability to firmly set our foot upon the first rung of the ladder, and that's all we're really ready for as of yet anyway, imho. After we do that, and if we're sincere and making headway on the path of chelaship, I imagine that other works would then be made available to help us place our second step.

As for the scholars... I think they're indeed stuck on the purely exoteric, but that's less the fault of the scriptures themselves and more the fault of the scholars, who do not hold the keys to unlocking the meanings and don't seem interested in those keys (in fact, who most often dismiss the very idea of their even being keys).

Permalink Reply by Casady on July 27, 2013 at 8:57am

Taoism has a rich spiritual tradition - here's a cool website I encountered in my Eastern flights through the Wood element with the Green Dragon as I searched for the True Mercury:

''Yao ruled the people of the kingdom, and maintained a perfect government within the four seas. Having gone to see the four (Perfect) Ones on the distant hill of Ku-shih, when (he returned tot he capital) on the south of the Fan water, his throne appeared no more to his deep-sunk oblivious eyes.''

The Writings of Chuang Tzu, I, 6

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on July 30, 2013 at 9:58am

Thanks to Wes and Casady for these references.  Feel free to pull out a key phrase or short quote from them to illustrate your point or give us a taste of the text, so to speak.

Permalink Reply by David Reigle on August 27, 2013 at 8:43pm

For a long time I thought that pretty much everything in The Secret Doctrine, other than quotations from others, could be taken as reliable truth based on the inside information of the Mahatma teachers. After all, Theosophy claimed to be hidden knowledge now brought out, and the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan given in The Secret Doctrine demonstrated this. What I did not know is that a large number of Blavatsky’s statements are not actually information of her own, but are merely copied from the often inaccurate books available in her time. Since these statements are not referenced to any sources, we normally assume that they are her own. Her statement here about the thousand books of Lao-tse, given to illustrate that there are many now lost books, is an example of this:

“Such are, for instance, the works of Lao-tse, the predecessor of Confucius. 
He is said to have written 930 books on Ethics and religions, and seventy on magic, one thousand in all.”

But I did not know or suspect that she was here copying someone else. So I took this as her own statement based on the privileged information from her Mahatma teachers, who I thought probably still had access to these lost books. At the time (1978), I was a student in the Religious Studies program at University of California, Santa Barbara. I then asked a co-student who was majoring in Chinese religion and language if anyone had heard of these thousand books by Lao-tse. The usual story, of course, is that he wrote only one book, the Tao-te-ching, upon retiring from the world. My co-student told me that the library of the University of California at Los Angeles had acquired a reprint edition of the Chinese Taoist canon, the Tao Tsang, and promised to look into the authorship of its more than 1,400 texts the next time he visited that library. Upon his return, he told me that many of these books in the Taoist canon are attributed to T’ai Shang, “Greatest on High,” which he said was a title of Lao-tse. I was very happy to get what I then thought was confirmation of a Secret Doctrine statement.

Like me, others, too, assumed that Blavatsky’s statements about Lao-tse in The Secret Doctrine were her own. The late Richard W. Brooks, a Theosophist and professor of philosophy at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, devoted much effort to investigating these statements in his article, “Who Was Lao Tzu?” (The Theosophist, vol. 118, no. 9, June 1997, pp. 376-380, uploaded here). The results of his investigation were inconclusive. He was not able to confirm Blavatsky’s statements about Lao-tse (or Lao Tzu). He, like me, did not know that they were not really her statements. Thus, for example, he writes (p. 379): “HPB’s mention of ‘the Tao-sse’ is puzzling,” and speculates that this term might refer to the Taoist canon, the Tao Tsang. But this term comes straight from F. Max Müller, where we see that it refers to the followers of Lao-tse. Müller in turn took it from Stanislas Julien’s 1842 French translation of theTao te king, the first translation of this text ever published in a Western language. Müller gave his sources fully, while Blavatsky here gave them only partially, and in many other places not at all. This has led to many, many such difficulties as the present one.

Here is what Blavatsky wrote in her 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine, followed by what Müller wrote in his 1870 book, Introduction to the Science of Religion.

“Such are, for instance, the works of Lao-tse, the predecessor of Confucius. 
    He is said to have written 930 books on Ethics and religions, and seventy on magic, one thousand in all. His great work, however, the heart of his doctrine, the “Tao-te-King,” or the sacred scriptures of the Taosse, has in it, as Stanislas Julien shows, only “about 5,000 words” (Tao-te-King, p. xxvii.), hardly a dozen of pages, yet Professor Max Müller finds that “the text is unintelligible without commentaries, so that Mr. Julien had to consult more than sixty commentators for the purpose of his translation,” the earliest going back as far as the year 163 B.C., not earlier, as we see.”

“Lao-tse, the contemporary, or rather the senior, of Confucius, is reported to have written a large number of books:2 no less than 930 on different questions of faith, morality, and worship, and 70 on magic. His principal work, however, the Tao-te-king, which represents the real scripture of his followers, the Tao-sse, consists only of about 5,000 words,3 and fills no more than thirty pages. But here again we find that for that very reason the text is unintelligible without copious commentaries, so that M. Julien had to consult more than sixty commentators for the purpose of his translation, the earliest going back as far as the year 163 B.C.”

2 Stan. Julien, Tao-te-king, p. xxvii.

3 Julien, Tao-te-king, pp. xxxi., xxxv.

Introduction to the Science of Religion, by F. Max Müller, 1870, p. 17 (1893 and 1899 eds., p. 62).


So where did Stanislas Julien get these numbers of the books written by Lao-tse? Turning to his 1842 book, to page xxvii referenced by Müller, and following this back to the beginning of this section, “Legende Fabuleuse de Lao-tseu,” p. xxiii, we see that he got them from the bookChin-sein-tch’ouen, by Ko-hong, a Chinese writer of the fourth century C.E. There was no standardization of transcription for Chinese for Julien to follow in 1842. In the Wade-Giles system that was later widely adopted, this book is Shen-hsien chuan, by Ko Hung, and in the pinyin system now in use, it is Shenxian zhuan, by Ge Hong. There is now a complete English translation of this book: To Live as Long as Heaven and Earth: Ge Hong’s Traditions of Divine Transcendents, translated by Robert Ford Campany, University of California Press, 2002. The biography of Laozi (as his name is there written) is on pp. 194-211. The information about these books is found on p. 200: “In all, [the writings on these methods] came to nine hundred thirty fascicles, plus seventy fascicles of talismanic texts.”

In summary, Blavatsky’s statement about the thousand books of Lao-tse, given to illustrate that there are many now lost books, does not come from her Mahatma teachers, but rather comes from the fourth century C.E. Chinese writer Ge Hong, by way of the 1842 book by Stanislaw Julien, by way of the 1870 book by F. Max Müller. Ge Hong also tells us such things as: “His mother gave birth to him while leaning against a plum tree. He was able to speak as soon as he was born, and pointing to the plum tree said: ‘I take my surname from this tree.’” (from the abridged translation by Lionel Giles, A Gallery of Chinese Immortals, 1948). This example is enough to show why Ge Hong’s account is regarded as myth rather than history, and why we never hear of the thousand books of Lao-tse elsewhere.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on August 28, 2013 at 7:12pm

Thanks David. This is very enlightening.

I've often found it difficult to tell the difference between when something is coming from HPB or a Mahatma and when it is drawn from another source. The SD is wonderfully obscured that way. :)

I'd like to explore this case a little, if we can.

Now, when looking to the references you give, it is quite clear that the first half of the paragraph in the SD is drawn from these works, right back to Ge Hong, as you say. Ge Hong then references his source as the "Central Slips on Laozi's Origins" (Laozi benqi zhongpian), which, judging by Campany's footnote (241) may not be an extant text. But it's important that Ge Hong makes such a reference, in my view, because it would seem that the trail may not end with him, even if (for the time being) this is as far along the trail any modern scholar has gone or can go. It would seem (to me) that we may have another "bread crumb", no?

In any case, we see that HPB uses this piece of information to open a paragraph, and then uses the second half of the paragraph to make a certain point. As far as I can tell, the second half of the paragraph is from HPB herself (please correct me if I'm wrong, anyone). She says:

"During the four centuries and a half that preceded this earliest of the commentators there was ample time to veil the true Lao-tse doctrine from all but his initiated priests. The Japanese, among whom are now to be found the most learned of the priests and followers of Lao-tse, simply laugh at the blunders and hypotheses of the European Chinese scholars; and tradition affirms that the commentaries to which our Western Sinologues have access are not the real occult records, but intentional veils, and that the true commentaries, as well as almost all the texts, have long since disappeared from the eyes of the profane."

Is this HPB? Or is this a reference drawn from another source? It seems to be HPB.

I want to touch on one thing you say in your explanation. You write:

Ge Hong also tells us such things as: “His mother gave birth to him while leaning against a plum tree. He was able to speak as soon as he was born, and pointing to the plum tree said: ‘I take my surname from this tree.’” (from the abridged translation by Lionel Giles, A Gallery of Chinese Immortals, 1948). This example is enough to show why Ge Hong’s account is regarded as myth rather than history, and why we never hear of the thousand books of Lao-tse elsewhere.

But I think we need to be careful with such conclusions. It doesn't seem wise to dismiss an entire author or work based on such statements. Many (if not all) biographies of Buddha, for instance, carry with them obviously mythical/fantastic/allegorical statements, but we do not dismiss every word of such biographies based on these statements, but instead try to sift through them to find where lies truth and where lies either exaggeration or purposeful invention (whether for embellishment or for allegorical reasons). The same can be said of nearly all ancient texts. If we dismissed texts based on portions of it being 'fictional', we would be forced to dismiss just about every ancient text ever written, would we not? ;)

Ge Hong's other statements about Laozi have no bearing on my own acceptance or dismissal of his statement about the thousand books. If I wrote that "JFK was a president who was assassinated, and when he was a boy he had a purple tongue", the latter does not negate the former. ;) Many a writer throughout history has taken pieces of valid history and woven fantastical elements around them. In fact, this seems to have been themodus operandi of eastern literature as far back as we can go.

In glancing at Ge Hong's section on Lao Tzu, I find little reason to dismiss outright the statement used by HPB (unless there is some other source that definitively proves it false?), and perhaps HPB saw reason not to dismiss it either (?). He does, after all, provide his source reference. That we don't currently have that reference to draw upon for our conclusions is not enough to dismiss it, is it? And, the idea that we don't have it available to draw upon may fit quite well with HPB's conclusion of her paragraph on the subject, no?

Campany's footnote (241) on the source referenced by Ge Hong states that:

“No text of this title is listed in the Inner Chapters catalog of scriptures, nor, to my knowledge, is any text of closely similar title quoted in Daoist collectanea.”

Now, if we were to give HPB's second-half of the paragraph the benefit of the doubt (for argument's sake), why must we expect to find such titles listed in exoteric catalogs?

If, instead, we dismiss HPB's statement, the absence of the text from certain catalogs still doesn't necessarily prove that it is erroneous or non-existent or that Ge Hon's statement is either. It merely proves that the text is not listed among certain other texts.

The curious question, for a theosophist, may be this: if HPB and the Mahatmas were privy to esoteric historical information not available in their time (or ours), would they select this particular quote from Julien/Muller to use in the SD if they knew it to be fiction? And if so, why?

Perhaps it is fiction, but they didn't know that (they are fallible). Or perhaps it isn't purefiction, and they knew that, and used it for that reason.

Or perhaps they didn't know their history as well as they let on. But, I must say, that for several other reasons I have developed a fairly high confidence in the writer(s) of the SD. :)

All this leads to the fundamental question: are we truly in a position to call the statement on Lao Tzu erroneous?

All that aside, it seems important to try to look through the text of the SD towards the greater points that are being made. And in this case, the larger point seems (to me) to be that we need to all consider that what we think we know, about history and about religious teachers/systems and their philosophies may be in need of examination. It may be founded upon faulty information. If nothing else, exploring this subject makes it clear (to me) that I ought to be very watchful of when I think I know something (sometimes I question if I know anything at all!!). I'm certainly learning from your work, David, not to get too stuck in my preconceived notions! So thank you for that service. I highly appreciate when you bring these kinds of things forward, because it really makes me look closely at what I'm taking for granted or may be assuming on 'blind faith'. :)

I think W.Q. Judge, for one, would be happy to see posts like yours. I came across an article of his just this morning (suspiciously good timing ;), where he says:

"One should first be prepared to examine with a clear and unbiased mind. But suppose the enquirer is disposed at the outset to take the word of theosophical writers, then caution is necessary, for theosophical literature does not bear the stamp of authority." (source)

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on August 29, 2013 at 10:31am

Well dear friends, would it not be helpful, on issues like these, to be able to read the astral light for ourselves and discover these things once and for all?

What is interesting to me, lonely me, is that the one book of Lao Tsu  that we do have is more than enough to keep me occupied.

Permalink Reply by David Reigle on August 29, 2013 at 9:28pm

Jon, I much appreciate your well-considered comments. I agree that “erroneous” is not the right word to describe the statement about Lao-tse’s thousand books that HPB used in The Secret Doctrine. As you say, there is no way to disprove this statement. Moreover, Ge Hong’s citing the title of the book that lists these thousand works, "Central Slips on Laozi's Origins," is evidence that it was not just a vague story that he had heard. I would not be surprised if one day some of these writings will be discovered, and prove Ge Hong correct.

For now however, and for more than a century, Ge Hong’s account of Laozi’s life has been superseded by the older and less embellished account of it by the famous historian Sima Qian (also spelled Szu-ma Chien). Even by the time of James Legge’s 1891 translation of the Tao Teh King for the Sacred Books of the East Series (The Texts of Taoism, Part I), only Sima Qian’s (there spelled Sze-ma Khien) account of Laozi’s life is given (pp. 33-38). Since Sima Qian, who lived at least four centuries earlier than Ge Hong, makes no mention of the thousand books of Laozi, these books are no longer referred to in writings about him. It was OK for Max Müller to refer to them in 1870, and even for Blavatsky to refer to them in 1888. But no one turns to Max Müller’s writings today as authoritative sources. For more than a century now, the idea that Laozi wrote a thousand books has been regarded as questionable.

So while we cannot call this statement “erroneous,” we can call it questionable. Then, to use a questionable statement to make a point, the point that there are many lost scriptures, does not work to make that point. The whole thing then becomes unconvincing or ineffective. Such a thing is fine for an “in-house” audience. There one is expected to get the point, and disregard any possible inaccuracies in the material used to make that point. But it may not work for an audience that is not already convinced of the truth of the author’s point. This, in fact, is far and away the hugest segment of the audience today.

Today things are approached critically by the educated public. It used to be that critical reviews were pretty much limited to academic journals, where they were expected. But today, large numbers of the reviews that appear by the thousands on the Amazon website are critical reviews. If we are to reach outside the Theosophical community, these questionable “facts,” OK in the days of Müller and Blavatsky but not OK today, need to be recognized so that they can be addressed. That, at least, is my opinion. It is extremely easy for readers to dismiss the entire Secret Doctrine on the basis of this type of material, which it does contain. Those of us who are impressed by the great truths that The Secret Doctrine contains do not even notice this material. But this may be just what is noticed by those who are new to it.

Permalink Reply by barbaram on August 30, 2013 at 4:47pm

Hi David,

Thank you for your post.  It is helpful, for any truth seeker, to learn the inaccuracies of the historical facts written by HPB since many of us have not spent the time and efforts to do the extensive research as you do.  Your message is a good reminder that even the theosophical literature do bear the stamp of authority and we need to question everything and verify truths for ourselves.    

However, these inconsistencies have not diminished my appreciation of Theosophy, and by no means am I a fanatic, because the droplets of truths I have discovered in the ideas.  Granted, if I were a scholar or a curious reader, and I found major discrepancies in HPB writings, I probably would not pursue it any further.  But, I guess it all depends on why people are drawn to the Theosophical teachings in the first place; we enter this house from different doors - some come from a historical curiosity, some from an interest of unlocking life mystery, and some from a scientific intrigue, etc.  So, for some students, a few historical errors found here and there would not affect their interest in the teachings.  That said, I do think it is very important to recognize, and not put our head in the sand, both the mistakes as well as the profundities in the TS materials.   


Permalink Reply by David Reigle on September 1, 2013 at 1:20pm

Barbara, very glad to have your comments. It is good that these inconsistencies have not diminished your appreciation for Theosophy. That was my hope, that readers such as yourself would see them for what they are, without having them affect what truth you have discovered in the Theosophical ideas and writings. I discussed this with Gerry and Jon before posting it, and they encouraged me to do so. Your positive response is very welcome feedback that it is OK to discuss these things here.

Jon's suggestion that we look at evidence that has become available since HPB wrote in support of her ideas is an excellent one. I will post a good example of this from Samkhya texts shortly. Research brings us plenty of this kind of evidence, as well.

In the meantime, I did yet not reply to Jon's comment on the latter half of that paragraph as being HPB's own statements. I agree that they are. She speaks of "The Japanese, among whom are now to be found the most learned of the priests and followers of Lao-tse." She is here referring to the Yamabushi (which she usually spells Yamabooshi). The Yamabushi are usually considered to be Buddhist rather than followers of Lao-tse, but they probably have accepted some things from Taoism. In any case, HPB gives us an extraordinary true story pertaining to a Japanese Yamabushi, titled "A Bewitched Life." It is in the book, The Tell-tale Picture Gallery: Occult Storiesby H. P. Blavatsky and W. Q. Judge. No doubt this story is available somewhere online now. It is very much worth reading.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 1, 2013 at 8:17pm

Thanks David. In regards to the availability to discuss these kinds of questions on Theosophy Nexus, we certainly welcome them. As another has said: "theosophy ought to be about free-thought", and we do not wish to stifle important topics such as this. You exemplify the manner by which we should approach such topics as well, with courtesy, consideration and good-intention.

The story David references here can indeed be found online. Here is the link:

There is a brief note about the online publication and then a link to a PDF of the full book.

The specific story referenced can also be read in HTML format here:

"A Bewitched Life", by H.P. Blavatsky

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on August 30, 2013 at 10:53pm

Very good points David. Thanks again.

"Questionable" does definitely seem like an appropriate term, and approach. And your view on the larger audience seems to be a very important one. While HPB and others embedded themselves into the scientific, theological and philosophical discussions of their time, theosophists since have seemed to largely shy away from such things, and perhaps this has been one of our mistakes. When reading material from the early days of The Theosophist, it is quite impressive how engaged with modern scholars the theosophists were. A little more of that could be healthy for us. :)

It would seem to me that each generation needs to make the same key points, using the materials and knowledge of their generation. Like you say, the point HPB tries to make here is somewhat lost (to modern scholars, anyway) due to the questionable character of the reference, so perhaps our duty as theosophists is to understand that point and then to re-make it using modern knowledge. One example that comes to mind is related to something you and I discussed lately: the Sankhya philosophy. There is an easy example, using modern knowledge, that can be used to make roughly the same point: that certain texts that were once extant may have been either withdrawn or have simply become unavailable for whatever reason, and that what is known of a system of thought in a particular era is not necessarily the full scope of that system.Could we perhaps make the same kind of point using something like the Nag Hammadi library—a modern example of "esoteric", once buried texts becoming once more available? Or perhaps look to Buddhism and the vast library of texts that are only now becoming available, that lied latent for so many generations?

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Jeffrey Smart on September 2, 2013 at 9:14am

I think that we all have to remember that people, HPB included, view things and information in their own way and present their ideas on these things and information in their own way.  In the process information can be distorted and misinterpreted.  This is natural.  When water flows through a creek bed it changes.  Information is no different and people are the creek beds or filters of information.  I have no doubt that HPB was honest and doing her best to get the information that she possessed out to the masses. And I believe, given her period of history and her access to information she has done a great job regardless of errors.  In the end the basic ideas of Theosophy still stands as outlined below (taken from the TSA website):

  • Behind everything seen or unseen there is an eternal, boundless, and immutable absolute Reality, which is beyond the range of human thought. Both matter and consciousness (or spirit) are the two polar aspects of this Reality.
  • Theosophy postulates a cyclic universe. A universe manifests, develops, and dissolves back into the absolute Reality. After a period of cosmic rest, a new universe appears again.
  • Since everything proceeds from (or manifests within) this single Reality, there is only one common Life that pervades and sustains the whole universe. Every form of life is an expression of this Unity.
  • The visible universe is only its densest part; the whole universe contains also invisible dimensions or planes of exceedingly tenuous kinds of matter-energy interpenetrating the physical.
  • Theosophy postulates a universe of purpose. The entire system, visible and invisible, is the scene of a great scheme of evolution, in which life moves to ever more expressive form, more responsive awareness, and more unified consciousness.
  • There are no mechanical laws. The universe is pervaded by a non-anthropomorphic intelligence, which is both immanent and transcendent. Therefore, intelligence is at the basis of all laws of nature. At the same time, no super-natural miracles are possible. As H. P. Blavatsky said, "Deity is Law."
  • Human consciousness is in essence identical with the ultimate Reality, which Ralph Waldo Emerson called the "Oversoul." This one supreme Reality, being the root of our real Self, is shared by each of our particular beings, thus uniting us with one another.
  • The gradual unfolding of this latent divine Reality within us takes place over a long period of time by the process of reincarnation, which is an aspect of the cyclic law seen everywhere in nature.
  • The cycle of reincarnation is ruled by the law of cause and effect. As Saint Paul says--whatever we sow, we will inevitably reap. This is the law of karma by which we weave our own destiny through the ages. It is the great hope for humanity, for it gives us the opportunity to create our future by what we do in the present.
  • The human pilgrimage takes us from the Source, where we are an unconscious part of the One, leading us through the experience of the many, to finally take us back into union with the One Divine Reality, but now in full awareness. Our goal is thus to complete the cosmic cycle of manifestation through which we attain a fully conscious realization of ourselves as an integral part of the One, no longer polarized between consciousness and matter, or divided into self and other. This realization is enlightenment.

HPB and the many other writers and thinkers who have honored Theosophy and the Society with their knowledge and ideas have contributed the advancement of theosophical thought.  And I think there is much more correct than incorrect in the SD. 

Permalink Reply by David Reigle on September 4, 2013 at 6:37pm

In Indian tradition, Sāṃkhya is regarded as the oldest philosophical system, and its founder, Kapila, is regarded as the first knower (ādi-vidvān). Yet, by the year 1900 of the Common Era, study of this venerable system had been reduced to only about two books (along with their commentaries), and even one of these is of doubtful authenticity. Sāṃkhya’s grand old sourcebook, theṢaṣṭi-tantra (pronounced Shushti-tuntra), “Sixty Topics,” had long ago disappeared. It had entered the realm of myth to such an extent that “ṣaṣṭi-tantra” had come to be seen primarily as a list of the sixty topics of Sāṃkhya rather than as a book on them. But after the turn of the century, things began to change. One by one, old texts were discovered and came to light. References in these texts to legendary old Sāṃkhya teachers and quotations from their lost writings, including the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra, showed that they really did once exist. Thus they were brought back from the realm of myth to the realm of reality.

Of the two books on Sāṃkhya studied in recent centuries, the Sāṃkhya-sūtra should have formed the textbook of the system, just like the Yoga-sūtra formed the textbook of the Yoga system. But the Sāṃkhya-sūtra now known seems to be a comparatively recent production, since no old Sanskrit writer quotes it. The summary of the Sāṃkhya system found in the Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha, written in the fourteenth century C.E., does not quote theSāṃkhya-sūtra, but rather quotes the Sāṃkhya-kārikā. The brief Sāṃkhya-kārikā has long functioned as the actual textbook of the Sāṃkhya system. It describes itself as a summary of the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra. Its seventy (or seventy-two) verses have usually been studied by way of the commentary by Vācaspati Miśra. This commentary, which employs the later commentary style of raising objections and answering them, had supplanted the simpler and more concise commentary by Gauḍapāda. This occurred despite that fact that Gauḍapāda’s has always been recognized as being older, and his name carries much authority. So by the year 1900 C.E., Sāṃkhya had come to be studied through the Sāṃkhya-sūtra, of questionable authenticity, and through the Sāṃkhya-kārikā as explained by Vācaspati Miśra, who often differs from the older explanations of Gauḍapāda.

Then in 1904 a very unusual text was published. Earlier, Samuel Beal had announced in 1878 that a translation of the Sāṃkhya-kārikā with an old commentary was found in the Chinese Buddhist canon. Why had this Hindu text been translated into Chinese in the sixth century C.E. and included in the Buddhist canon? It was called the “Golden Seventy,” or Suvarṇa-saptati in Sanskrit, referring to its seventy verses. A French translation of this Chinese translation was made by J. Takakusu and published in 1904. This French translation provided access to this Chinese text and made it possible to directly see that the commentary on these verses was very similar to Gauḍapāda’s commentary; so much so that at first the two were thought to be the same. But this changed with the discovery of Māṭhara’s commentary.

In 1917 S. K. Belvalkar announced the discovery of the Sanskrit Māṭhara-vṛtti, the lost commentary on the Sāṃkhya-kārikā by Māṭharācārya. Māṭharācārya, the teacher (ācārya) Māṭhara, had been known only from a few old references, as an ancient teacher of Sāṃkhya. His commentary, published in 1922, was also seen to be very similar to Gauḍapāda’s commentary. Belvalkar held that Māṭhara’s commentary (or an early version of it) is the one that was translated into Chinese so long ago. He further held that Gauḍapāda’s commentary was a simplified abridgement of Māṭhara’s commentary. Others disagreed with him on both points. Takakusu’s French translation of the sixth-century Chinese translation had been translated into English by S. S. Suryanarayanan and published in 1932, and the early Chinese translation had been directly retranslated into Sanskrit by N. Aiyaswami Sastri and published in 1944. So Sanskritists in India (and elsewhere) had access to these texts and could compare them for themselves. There were agreements and disagreements between the three texts. Then the situation became more complex with the arrival on the scene of two more such texts.

In the mid-1900s an exhibition of some of the rare treasures from the legendary Jaina libraries of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, was organized at the National Museum in New Delhi. Blavatsky speaks of these libraries in From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan (Collected Writings ed., pp. 75-76), and of their well-deserved reputation for keeping their holdings entirely inaccessible to others. This exhibition represented some of the first outside access to these long jealously guarded manuscripts. It included two very old palm-leaf manuscripts of hitherto unknown Sanskrit commentaries on theSāṃkhya-kārikā, manuscripts that had been copied nine hundred years ago. The dry desert air of Jaisalmer, in stark contrast to the humidity of most of India, made possible their remarkable preservation. These two anonymous commentaries, designated Sāṃkhya-Saptati-vṛtti and Sāṃkhya-vṛtti, were eventually edited by Esther Solomon, and both published in 1973. They are both very similar to each other. They are both also very similar to Gauḍapāda’s commentary, and thus to Māṭhara’s commentary, and thus to the commentary translated into Chinese in the sixth century C.E. In fact, Solomon put forth the view that the Sāṃkhya-vṛtti is the oldest of these and was the one that was translated into Chinese, and that the other commentaries are indebted to this commentary.

Thus, from 1904 to 1973, we went from having just Gauḍapāda’s old commentary to having four more closely similar old commentaries on theSāṃkhya-kārikā. For several decades, as these came out one by one, scholarly discussion centered around who borrowed from who, and which of these was the original. But another fact changed this picture, and we can now see that they obviously all drew upon the same source, namely, the lostṢaṣṭi-tantra. This explains why their comments on each verse are so similar, yet not identical. Each writer, following the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra, took the same explanation and condensed it, taking some parts and leaving others. This condensing is also what the author of the Sāṃkhya-kārikā said he did in writing his seventy or so verses. However, even in time of Vācaspati Miśra, who lived in the ninth or tenth century C.E., the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra had apparently been lost long enough that he explained the term “ṣaṣṭi-tantra” in his commentary as the sixty topics of Sāṃkhya rather than as a book. This idea continued to dominate until the mid-1900s. What changed this picture was the discovery of actual quotations from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra.

In 1930 M. Ramakrishna Kavi announced the discovery of Bhartṛhari’s own commentary on his Vākyapadīya. This long lost commentary was edited by Charu Deva Shastri and first published in 1934. It gave a quotation (on 1.8) that was specifically identified by the sub-commentator Vṛṣabhadeva as being from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra. In itself, this was little more than Vācaspati Miśra’s attribution of a quotation in Vyāsa’s Yoga-sūtra commentary (on 4.13) to the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra. But by now the evidence had started to accumulate. A few years earlier, in 1926, another hitherto unknown commentary on theSāṃkhya-kārikā was published, the Jayamaṅgalā. The Jayamaṅgalā referred to (although did not quote) the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra on six occasions, and referred to it as a book. That the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra was a real book was put beyond doubt a couple of decades later in far-away Austria.

In 1958 was published in Vienna an article by Erich Frauwallner in which he traced many quotations from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra. These came from an old Buddhist text and its commentary, then preserved only in Tibetan translation, and from an old Jaina commentary on a lost text. The Jaina text, Siṃhasūri’s commentary on Mallavādī’s lost Dvādaśāra-nayacakra, gave detailed accounts of particular teachings of the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra, along with quotations from it. The Buddhist text, Dignāga’s Pramāṇa-samuccaya and especially its commentary by Jinendrabuddhi, provided many more quotations from theṢaṣṭi-tantra. In recent years, after prolonged negotiations by Ernst Steinkellner, an agreement was reached that allowed the Austrian Academy of Sciences Press and the China Tibetology Publishing House to jointly publish some of the many Sanskrit texts that had been discovered in the 1930s by Rahula Sankrityayana in Tibet. Thus in 2005 was published chapter 1 of Jinendrabuddhi’s commentary, the Viśālāmalavatī, in which one can see with his or her own eyes the Sanskrit quotations from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra.

What was the biggest event of the twentieth century for the history of the Sāṃkhya school yet remains to be described. As noted at the outset, by the year 1900 C.E. most of the texts of the Sāṃkhya system had long been lost, and only a couple then remained. In 1938 was published a hitherto unknown but extraordinary commentary on the Sāṃkhya-kārikā, called theYuktidīpikā. Although not one of the old commentaries like Gauḍapāda’s and the other four similar to it, the Yuktidīpikā opens for us a window onto the time when Sāṃkhya was a living philosophical system in India. It preserves the controversies between Sāṃkhya and other philosophical schools when Sāṃkhya was still vital. The Sāṃkhya views were strongly held and vigorously defended, as if one’s life depended on it. For their upholders, it did. Philosophy in India was not speculation, as it became in the West. It was pursued in order to find the best and most effective way of reaching liberation (mokṣa). This was the great goal of life in India. Trying to trace the many lost scriptures that Blavatsky speaks of is therefore more than of just historical interest.

Most of the books on Sāṃkhya spoken of above are now available on the Book of Dzyan blog at (or Some I have not scanned, such as the much improved 1998 critical edition of the Yuktidīpikāby Albrecht Wezler and Shujun Motegi, because of copyright restrictions. Click on “Sanskrit Texts” in the bar that goes across the top of the page, and then click on “Sanskrit Hindu Texts.” Even though it says “Sanskrit,” some of these are in or include English translation. Moreover, most of the Sanskrit editions include an English introduction. Just by reading these one can get a good idea of what is in the Sanskrit texts, and where they fit into the broader picture. All the articles referred to above (and many more) have also been collected by me, but have not yet been posted anywhere. If anyone needs one or more of these in particular, I will be glad to supply it.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 4, 2013 at 8:02pm

Thank you very much for this summary, David! Very enlightening!